October is Pedestrian Safety Month

October is Pedestrian Safety Month. We want to thank the folks who joined us on a lovely fall Sunday stroll through Mt. Vernon Square to discuss pedestrian safety and street design while getting to know one another.  

Our discussion of pedestrian safety doesn’t stop there. As we wrap up the month of October, we want to draw attention to the fact that pedestrian safety, or lack thereof, is a different experience from person to person, and community to community. Regardless of how you move around the city, everyone is considered a pedestrian at some point in their journey. However, race, income, mobility, and age unfairly affect how people experience the streets. Continue reading to find out why we are calling for a Safe System approach for every neighborhood.  

Let’s get to the facts: 

Pedestrian deaths accounted for 17 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2019. Between 2015 and 2019, the overall national pedestrian fatality rate increased by 27 percent (Source: FARS 2014 and 2018 Final File; Population – Census Bureau) 


The national pedestrian fatality rate increased by 42 percent among Black or African American people between 2014 and 2018. (Source: FARS 2014 and 2018 Final File; Population – Census Bureau). People of color, particularly Native and Black Americans are more likely to die while walking than any other race or ethnic group nationwide (Smart Growth America 2021). 

Non-wheelchair versus wheelchair users: 

A study assessing national pedestrian death risk among wheelchair users found that the risk of pedestrian crash death is significantly higher for pedestrians using wheelchairs than those who do not. The national pedestrian mortality rate was 36% higher than the overall national population pedestrian mortality rate. (Kramer & Benton, 2015)  


Older adults were struck and killed at much higher rates than other populations nationwide in 2020, as in past years (Smart Growth America, 2021). 


People walking in low-income neighborhoods were struck and killed at much higher rates than other populations nationwide in 2020, as in past years (Smart Growth America, 2021). Low-income communities do not have the same street safety features as higher-income neighborhoods. Safety features include safe sidewalks, well-marked crosswalks, parks, and streets designed for slower speeds. Moreover, lower-income neighborhoods are more likely to have major arterial roads built through them nationwide (This Washington Post article has DC-specific reporting) (Smart Growth America, 2021).  

It’s unacceptable. When we say design the streets for everyone, we mean everyone!  

That is why we are advocating for the Safe System approach while taking equity into account. 

Safe System Approach: The Philosophy 

The Safe System approach, otherwise known as Safety by Design, operates under the assumption that humans will make mistakes when using a transportation system. Therefore, the system – road design, vehicles, traffic laws, etc. – should be designed to account for the inevitable human error. When that error does occur, the consequences of the mistake will be mitigated, and ultimately not result in a fatality. In other words, traffic deaths are preventable through a safe system approach. 

Pedestrian Safety within The System: 

In DC, when we say “safe system,” we are talking about the following sectors: Safe People, Safe Roads, Safe Speeds, Post-Crash Care, and Safe Vehicles (See Vision Zero 2022 Update

Safe People – Examples: Drivers who are not aggressive, impaired, or distracted can safely and efficiently share the road with pedestrians. Pedestrians know and follow the rules of the road to keep themselves and others safe. 

Safe Roads- Example: Sidewalks, marked crosswalks, and leading intervals on the crosswalk signals allow pedestrians to travel safely. Drivers do not turn right on red (coming into effect in 2025).  

Safe Speeds – Example: Drivers know and follow the 20 MPH speed limit on local  

streets in DC.  

Post-Crash Care – Examples: First responders can arrive and treat crash victims efficiently and transport them to local hospitals for post-crash care. An effective order of operations during post-crash care allows responders to remain safe and avoid secondary crashes while on the scene. 

Safe Vehicles – Example: Drivers of larger vehicles, such as SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans, are more likely to hit people when making turns. DC has disincentivized owning large vehicles by instituting higher registration fees for large vehicles. 

Every pedestrian, regardless of their neighborhood, income, mobility, age, or race has the right to safely travel throughout D.C. streets. To learn more about the Safe System approach, visit the Vision Zero page – Fundamentals of the Safe System Approach. Stay tuned for more ways to learn about safety facts and engage with safety actions in D.C.   

Pedestrian Safety Tips 

In the meantime, there are actions you can take as a pedestrian to ensure your safety. See below for a list of things to keep in mind when moving about the city (sourced from Street Sense 2023): 

  • Cross the street at crosswalks and intersections 
  • Watch for turning vehicles. Look left, right, and then left again before crossing. 
  • Wait for the walk signal! 
  • Use the push buttons at crosswalks 
  • Watch out for blind spots around trucks and buses 
  • Be visible! Daylight savings is November 5th! During the darker months of the year, you can help stay safe by wearing reflective or bright clothing.